With three movies, several lengthy comic book runs, and countless crossover appearances, there’s a good chance you already know who The Punisher is, or the general gist of the character at least. He’s one of the most famous antiheroes in the Marvel universe, a vigilante who hunts down criminals and executes them mercilessly.
The Punisher was originally created by Amazing Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway and artists John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru, making his debut, complete with his now-famous black-skull outfit, in a 1974 issue of that comic. The character was inspired by the Don Pendleton-created pulp novel series The Executioner, whose protagonist, Mack Bolan, is also a war veteran who vows revenge on crime after losing his family to the mafia. Marvel spruced up the character, originally to be known simply as “The Assassin,” a bit before committing him to comics.
Over the next decade, the Punisher would up several more times in other adventures with the webslinger, and even once in an issue of Captain America from 1980. In 1982 he appeared in a Daredevil story arc written and drawn by Frank Miller, elements of which would be lifted for the season of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix.
A few years later, Marvel management reluctantly allowed Steven Grant and Mike Zeck to create a violent Punisher miniseries in 1986 that fleshed out the character a bit, depicting his violent tendencies as the result of mind-altering drugs he’d been exposed to during the Vietnam War. But people loved what they saw, and an ongoing Punisher comic came out in ’87 followed by The Punisher War Journal in ’88 and The Punisher: War Zone in ’92 as the character’s popularity grew in the late-’80s and early 1990s.
Dolph Lundgren was the first to play Frank Castle in a 1989 version of The Punisher, followed by a reboot with Thomas Jane in 2004. The studios would reboot things again with Ray Stevenson for Punisher: War Zone in 2008, a film that went all in to capture the violent nature of the Punisher. While each film has its fans (and critics), none managed to raise the Punisher to the heights of popularity enjoyed by other Marvel characters by movie adaptations, giving this Netflix series a chance to make the character its own.
So what version of Frank Castle are we set to see when the first season of Netflix’s The Punisher series drops on November 17th? It’s a direct continuation of the itersation we met in season two of Marvel’s Daredevil series, also produced by Netflix. The Punisher, played by The Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal, was a nearly omnipresent character during the 13-episode run, and The Punisher series will pick up where Daredevil ended.
*Warning: Spoilers for Daredevil season 2!*
The Punisher’s story as told in Daredevil remains fairly consistent with the comic book source material. Frank Castle is a military veteran that returns home from war (in this case, tours in Iraq and Afghanistan) only to have his family gunned down in a gang shootout known to the press as the Massacre at Central Park. The fault for his family’s death is spread across three gangs the Punisher relentlessly hunts through the season.
Daredevil and The Punisher battle several times as Daredevil attempts to keep The Punisher from murdering everyone with any connection to the death of his family. Over time the two develop a grudging respect for each other if not their methods. After getting arrested, The Punisher also runs into Kingpin Wilson Fisk, who ends up helping him escape from prison so he can kill all of Fisk’s competition.
But the most important person The Punisher interacts with from the Daredevil series is Matt Murdock’s former assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who repeatedly attempts to talk sense into Frank and get him to abandon his murderous rampage. Karen will be appearing regularly in The Punisher is a big part of the glue that ties this new series back to the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe and its television offshoots.
As in the comics and movies, The Punisher has no qualms about killing or even torturing criminals, but he draws the line at allowing innocents to be harmed (not surprising given his backstory). While he practically boasts about murdering gang members, he goes to extreme efforts to convince Karen that he was not responsible for the deaths of police officers and a district attorney tangentially involved in the death of his family.
At the end of Daredevil season 2 he discovers that the Blacksmith, a shadowy figure at the center of the Central Park Massacre, is actually his former commanding officer in the military, Ray Schoonover. After killing Schoonover, he finds a secret cache of high-end weaponry, including a bulletproof vest that looks one dab of paint away from becoming the Punisher’s iconic skull logo. The implication is clear: while Castle believes he’s now killed the men at the top responsible for the murder of his family, he’ll keep on fighting as a vigilante with these new guns and armor.
*Warning: Mild spoilers for The Punisher season 1*
The Punisher will see Frank Castle leave Hell’s Kitchen for the bigger scope of New York City. From there he is given evidence from a mysterious figure known as Micro (a new spin on comic book tech expert Microchip, who outfitted The Punisher with all his best killer gadgets) that more organizations may be responsible for the Central Park Massacre than originally thought.
Past that, you’ll just have to watch the series for yourself when Netflix drops season one in its entirety on Friday November 17th.